Anger as Norwich is left out of latest broadband plans

Sam WilliamsBusiness leaders have warned that Norwich's economic growth could be dented after it emerged the city has again been left out of the superfast broadband revolution.Sam Williams

Business leaders have warned that Norwich's economic growth could be dented after it emerged the city has again been left out of the superfast broadband revolution.

BT has named 63 telephone exchanges set for upgrade to offer broadband speeds of up to 40 megabits per second (Mbps) this summer - none of which will benefit Norwich.

The announcement was the third wave in the expansion of superfast broadband to miss out the city, which has led to criticism of BT's selection criteria and warnings it could harm investment and jobs in the city.

While further waves of telephone exchange upgrades are expected by 2012, BT was unable to confirm whether the roll out would reach the county within that period.

As well as home users - who will have to wait longer for faster web speeds and improved video, gaming and interactive services - the news comes as a blow to business, with faster broadband speeds highlighted as a vital step to economic growth.

Phil Harris, managing director of Norwich IT company Norcom Technology, and technology spokesman for Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'If companies find it difficult to transfer data in Norfolk, they are less likely to locate to this area and companies that are here may find they can operate better elsewhere.'

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And Peter Davis, chairman of technology firm Breakwater IT, also in Norwich, said fast broadband speeds would become even more important as technology such as remote and home working and video conferencing develops.

He said: 'Over the next five years, technology is going to change hugely. If we are not careful, the danger is Norfolk will be left constantly playing catch-up.'

But Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT's East of England director, said the company was only a quarter of the way through its superfast broadband roll out, which will be offered to 10 million homes by 2012, and said Norwich could still benefit in later announcements.

He said the decision as to which exchanges to upgrade were down not just to BT's broadband arm Openreach, but also all other telecoms companies that will use the network, adding: 'Where [telecoms companies] are most confident they will be able to create most demand is where the first improved telephone exchanges will be built, so naturally that will be in areas of greatest population density, like London.'

While he could offer no guarantee, Mr McCarthy-Ward said he was 'lobbying like fury' to get Norfolk included in later upgrades, adding: 'I have every confidence we will see superfast broadband in the area before too long.'

Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk County Council, said she was 'incredulous' that in three announcements by BT and planned upgrades to 160 telephone exchanges, not one was in the county.

She said: 'I am very surprised at some of the locations that have been included and it really does cause me to question the validity of the selection process.'

Do you have a business story for the Evening News? Call senior business writer Sam Williams on 01603 772447 or email